Illinois wrestling places fourth at Matmen Open behind first-place finishes from Cardani, Byrd


Photo courtesy of Illini Athletics

Wrestler Justin Cardani wins match during the Matmen Open on Dec. 29. The Illini placed fourth overall at the Matmen Open.

By Nick Kane, Contributing Writer

The Illini took fourth place in the highly anticipated Matmen Open, courtesy of first place finishes from Justin Cardani and Lucas Byrd as well as seven other wrestlers who earned top-eight finishes. This helped the Illini receive 105 points and place fourth out of the 21 teams competing in this tournament.

In the 125-pound group, Justin Cardani continued to build on his hot start to the season by winning four matches in a row. Cardani was rewarded a bye in the first round, which proved to be crucial because Cardani played with so much consistent and noticeable energy through his four matches and really impressed.

Cardani went on to beat Gio Diaz (Franklin & Marshall), Sheldon Seymour (Lehigh), Antonio Lorenzo (Cal Poly) and defeated Ryan Miller (Penn) to clinch the first-place finish in a close match with a final decision of 4-3.

Lucas Byrd, much like Cardani, was awarded a first-round bye and stood out from everyone from his first match to his fourth. Byrd defeated Dylan Chappell (Bucknell), Cole Rhone (Bloomsburg), Drew Martin (Michigan) and capped off a first-place finish of his own by defeating Micky Phillippi (Pittsburgh) in a 5-4 decision.

The Illini had five other placewinners as Luke Luffman finished in third place at 285 pounds by defeating Lehigh’s Nathan Taylor in a 6-1 decision.

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Zac Braunagel took fourth at 184 pounds, We Rachal finished in seventh place at 141 pounds, Christian Kanzler took eighth at 149 pounds and Danny Braunagel also took eight place at 165 pounds.

With 105 points, only three teams finished with a higher score than Illinois. Wisconsin put up 117, Penn with 118 and Pittsburgh won the Matmen Open with a 121.5 team score.

While currently ranked as the 23rd-best team in the nation, the Illini will return to action on Jan. 14 when they will take on Big Ten rival No. 12 Rutgers to open conference play.


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